One weekend in Skopje – Macedonia

It was time again for a short weekendtrip. As out trip to Belgrad we chose Wizzair for cheap flights into the Balkan Region. This time we traveled to Skopje in Macedonia. So we put all neccesarities in our backpacks (as hand luggage) and two hours later we stept into another world.

 

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Fast facts

Macedonia is a country in sout eastern Europe between Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Citiziens of the EU don’t need a Visa. Currency is the Macedonian Denar (MKD) with an exchange rate of approx. 60 MKD to 1€ (October 2017). You can pay in many hotels,  at the airport or in restaurants with Euro as well. Cash is available at countless  ATMs or at exchange offices. Official language is Macedonian and the Cyrillic Alphabet is used. The majority of citizens speaks English, so you can get along with english pretty well.

 

 

One weekend in Skopje

 

We arrive in Skopje at the airport “Alexander the Great” 25km outside of the city. The bus (Vardar Epress – schedule) costs around 175 MKD, or 3€. The schedule is roughly matched with the planes arriving. A taxi is around 100 MKD (17 €), so you will get it much cheaper by bus.

You should pay attention with your departure. There was no suitable bus for our departure flight and we need to take a taxi.

The bus stops at different places inside of the city. We get off at the international bus station und walked the last few steps to our hostel.

We stayed at Hostel Shanti in a 4 bed dorm, which we shared with two girls from Berlin. The hostel was very well visisted and can accomodate approx. 20 people. Peter, the host, offers a second hostel (Shanti 2) and an appartement under the same brand. Beside the fact that Peter is a pretty cool guy the hostel convinced with an easy living vibe. We enjoyed the beers with the other guests in the garden or in the living room very much. This is a reason why we like to stay in hostels, to get in touch with other travelers and their stories.

 

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Due to the fact that we arrived Friday evening we were very hungry and we visited a restaurant around the corner immediately. The Old House Restaurant was our choice, which we can fully recommend. The prices are at middle European level, but the menu is very very good. More a recommodation for higher class dining, as for frugal travelers.

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small portion, but delicious

Free Walking Tour in Skopje

Saturday started with breakfest in our hostel an a Free Walking Tour. The guide Miha welcomed us at 10:00 am in front of the Mother Theresa House and showed us the really beautifull city of Skopje for 3 hours. Miha is a great guide, the tour is informativ and entertaining as well and you get really a lot to know about the history of Skopje. We visited a lot of awesome sights, which were nearly completly new-build, because most areas of Skopje were destroyed in a heavy earthquake 1963.

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The old railway station in Skopje

The clock at the front of the railway station still shows 5 o’clock 17. At this specific time the historical center of Skopje was nearly totally destroyed at July 26 1963.

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Archeological Museum of Macedonia at the Bridge of Civilisation

Due to this sad incident you are able to see a lot of newly build, but old looking, buildings and sights.

It is an interesting fact that Mother Theresa was born in Skopje. You can visit a memorial house dedicated to her owner, which is part of the Free Walking Tour, too.

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Inside of the Memorial House of Mother Theresa

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Between the historical city center and the Old Bazaar

I really like the micture, but I liked the Old Bazaar most. It is one of the oldest and biggest marketplaces of the Balkans and since the 12. century the center for traiding in Skopje. You will feel like being at an arab market in the middle of the Orient. (This is how my imagination, unfortunately I have not been there so far…)

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At the Old Bazaar of Skopje

It is so much fun to stroll around, to get lost in the small alleys, to enjoy coffee and tea and to eat it in the very cheap pubs and restaurants.

We spent the evening relaxing with other travelers in the hostel drinking beer and Rakija (macedonian moonshine).

 

Lake Matka

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On Sunday we headed to Lake Matka. You can get there by bus (no. 60), which starts at the international bus station. You have to buy a plastic card at the small hut near the bus parking lot. The drive to Lake Matka and back costs 150 MKD and takes around 45 minutes, at the hut they will charge your card with the necessary amount of money. You should not try to buy the card scarce to departure, because the employe in the hut doesn’t speak english (at least when we were there) and the hut is very well visited.

But we were able to express everything using hands and feet and we got our ticket in the last seconds for our group of 7 and jumped on the already leaving bus. It helps if you speak Russian, most of the elderly people don’t speak English very well. But this is relevant to every country Eastern bloc.

The bus was repleted with peoply to the max. We hit the ground at every bump and the breaks were screaming in every curve. Because of approxamitly 100 humans in the bus the temperature and humidity raises to sauna level. Fresh air felt rarely so good after these 45 minutes.

Lake Matka seems to be the most popular sight to visit for the citizens of Skopje, it was nearly as crowded as the bus. (But it was Sunday and one of the last sunny weekends in Autumn). You can visit a cave at Lake Matka and take a boat ride to the cave, or you go by yourselfe using kayaks. We decided to take a small hike, which led us along the shore of the lake. The first 10 minutes you have to share the small path but afterwards there will be fewer and fewer people und you just meet other hiking lovers, like Germans, Austrians, Kiwis and so on. If you take this path you should plan with approx. 1 hour.

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Water + Hiking + Autumn

 

Unfortunately the hiking path is a dead end…

…and you have no opportunity to get to the other side of the lake. The cave is on the other side as well, so the only way to go is back on the same path…

We got a small snack at a restaurant with a good view to the sea. The size and prizing of the menu seems to be for upper class restaurants. To expensive and to small for a recommodation, but that is just our opinion ;). We skip the boar ride and wanted to head back to the bus. Due to the masses of visitors the bus couldn’t drive directly to Lake Matka, so it stops one village in front of Lake Matka. But we enjoyed the 40 minute walk.

Conclusion: Lake Matka is beautiful, but too crowded. Who could manage it, should avoid the weekends.

On the trip we became friends with 3 guys from New Zealand who were also staying in Hostel Shanti. We bought some 1.5 liter bottles of beer, which needed to be killed this evening. Together with other travelers we played more or less smart games, which involved a lot of drinking.

We felt occassionally like in a stage play as an US-American was looking for his underpants as if stung by an adder. In the morning he put it in the yard to dry and was asking if somebody has seen his underpants. He needs to catch the bus to Kosovo and his underpants are gone.

After some beers this was Hostel Comedy par excellence

Unfortunately no employee was at the hostel at this moment and he was getting more and more nervous and after he rummaged every room twive, he called Shanti 2. The host put his underpant inside because of the weather forecast and gave hit to him immediatly in a dry bag. He taught us to be persistent.

Everything went well. He got his underwear back and we had some fun being part of the play.

Departure and the next plans

After a very short night we noticed that our flight leaves at 1 PM and not, as I thought, at 3 PM. Additionally there was no suitable bus connection to the airport for 1 o’clock and we needed to arrive at the airport 1.5 hours before departure. (Unfortunately you are not able to do an online check-in at Skopje airport…)

So we hurried into the city center to get rid of the remaining money, breakfast and grabbed a taxi to the airport. Unfortunately it was raining cats and dogs, but our jackets worked quite well. The check-in and security checks at the airport ran quite smooth aus usual and arrived relaxed and full of memories at Friedrichshafen.

We spent defininetly too less time at the Old Bazaar, but you have to celebrate the parties as they come. We will visit Macedonia again for sure. The idea of Gene, another hostel guest, to open a hostel at Lake Ohrid sounds to alluring to ignore it 😉

So next rough plans for the spring were set up. Bike through the Balkans, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and at the end to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia?

 

 


Resources

booking.com  for accomodation,  we stayed at Hostel Shanti and would recommend it to everybody

free walking tour – Miha gives a great free walking tour – Must do!

Travel Guide:We didn’t use a specific guide for Skopje. The information found on the internet and the free walking tour were totally sufficient. Maybe we would buy one if we spent more time in Macedonia.

 

 

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